Being born in an Assamese household, every kid have experienced their mothers feeding them only in bell metal dishes or plates which is called ‘Kahor Kahi’ in Assamese. There is a belief that using dishes or plates prepared with bell metals on a daily basis enhances our immunity apart from purifying the food. One may find a number of products made out of bell metal in any household of the state.
Likewise, the industry that produces these bell metal handicrafts is located in Sarthebari in Bajali district of Assam. The Sarthebari Bell Metal Industry is the state’s oldest firm that has continued the legacy of art since the Ahom rule.
Speaking exclusively to Pratidin Time, one of the people working in the industry explained about the importance and contribution of the industry towards the state.
He said, “The contribution of the indigenous bell-metal Industry of Sarthebari is vast. It is the second largest handicraft sector after bamboocraft. The industry has given employment to nearly 3000 craftsmen.”
On enquiring about the products, it was learned that that kalah (water pot), sarai (a platter or tray mounted on a base), kahi (dish), bati (bowl), Ghonti (water pot with a long neck) and tal (cymbals) are few of the common items which are prepared by the artisans. If we summarize, these metal crafts can be divided into three categories: utensils, utility items and musical and religious items.
In Assam, these brass-metal handicrafts speak emotions. For instance, when any respectful person visits someone’s home, the elders of the family greet them with Tamul and Paan (Areca Nuts and Betel Leaf) which is presented on a Sarai. It is an essential part of many religious occasions as well as a unique piece of any felicitation program in Assamese society. Besides, it is also used to offer prasad in different religious occasions.
Again, the Ban Bati and Ban Kanhi are one of a kind products made out of brass. These are mostly used in special occasions. Likewise, every other brass metal product holds significance in an Assamese household.
Today the age old legacy which was started back in the seventeenth century A.D. is facing various hardships like many other traditional industries in Assam. While speaking about the matter, one of the industry members said, “One of the reasons for the loss in the market may be because there is not enough promotion of the dying art.
Besides, there is a lack of awareness of its glorious history. One can see that even the master craftsmen are struggling to maintain their livelihood. Besides, there are a lack of market strategy and insufficient supply of raw materials. There is also great dependence on middlemen and agents for raw materials, working capital and sale of finished products. The artisans end up borrowing from money lenders, making them vulnerable to exploitation.”
“Above all that, now-a-days other businesses have come up with some alternative machine made products which are less time consuming and the designs are advance in nature as they are made out of technologies. The retailers in town have switched to their products as they are cheaper than the handmade one’s,” he added.
He further said that, “If we are given some help, we can gain our grip back in the market.”
The transition from traditional to modernization in India has been rapid, hence, it is pertinent to mention that the survival of the bell metal industry greatly depends on its destiny and perhaps would require a sort of policy intervention for its viability.